Lessons - Next

Bidding Guide : IBG-1

Intermediate Bridge
LESSON 1
Hand valuation
 Quality Shape Losing Trick Count Hand Valuation Index Context - Law of Total Tricks Deals 1-12

(
Down - Top)

IBR 1.1 - Quality

Any hand valuation should be a combined assessment of quality + shape + context.

The quality of a hand is primarily defined by the Honour cards and the way they are distributed within the various suits.

1a : Point count
As explained in my article on Hand valuation prefer to use the Extended Milton Point Count instead of the old version which does not include a value for the 5th Honour card, the 10.

A = 4     K = 3     Q = 2     J = 1     10 = ½

Length points :   5-card suit = 1     6-card suit = 2

The above point values are realistic for balanced hands. But in unbalanced hands the values of Aces and Kings increases, while the Jacks and 10s decrease in value.

Embarking on the Intermediate skill level use HCP and LP in combination with the Losing Trick Count (LTC), rather than Shortage points.

1b : Supporting Honours
Two or more Honour cards in the same suit (preferably either touching or one space apart) are called supporting Honours. They strengthen a suit (and the hand) considerably.

1. Touching Honours : A K - K Q x - Q J x (x) - J 10 x x

2. Supporting Honours one space apart : A Q - K J x - Q 10 x

3. Honours two spaces apart are less supportive ( A J x - K 10 x),
unless they have a 3rd support card : A J 10 - K 10 9
Supporting Honours in a suit either safeguard the lower of touching Honours ( AK, KQx, QJx) or produce finesse configurations (AQ, AQ10, KJx, AJ10) which may produce additional tricks.

Compare these three hands :

 Hand 1 ♠ A 8 3 ♥ K 9 5 ♦ Q 7 4 2 ♣ J 8 4 Hand 2 ♠ 8 3 ♥ A Q 9 5 ♦ 7 4 2 ♣ K J 8 4 Hand 3 ♠ Q J 8 3 ♥ A K 9 5 ♦ 7 4 2 ♣ 8 4

Hand 1 has only single Honours in each suit. The ♥K and ♦Q are both vulnerable and could be captured by the Opponents.
Hands 2 has the same Honour cards, but is much stronger with supporting Honours in two 4-card suits.
Hand 3 is even more attractive, because it has touching Honours in two 4-card major suits.

After Partner's Opening bid a Responder with Hand 1 should not bid beyond 1NT except for a single raise of Partner's major suit to the 2-level.
Hands 2 and 3 on the other hand, are suitable Responding hands to go beyond the 1-level.

Recommended point values for Supporting Honour combinations are :

 SupH = 1 :   AKQ   AK   AQ10   AJ10   KQJ   KQ10   KJ10 SupH = ½ :   AQx   AJxx   KQx   KJxx   K109   QJ10   J109x SupH = 0 :   QJx   Q10x

The support value for Queens is already rewarded with ½ an extra point in the Losing Trick Count.

LTC :   Qxx = ½ a winner   Q10x = 1 winner

I have taken this into account in above valuation table.

1c : The Suit Quality Test (SQT)
The Suit Quality Test is a very useful method to determine the strength of a long suit, especially when making an Overcall.   The formula is :

Suit length + Honour cards = Suit Quality

J and 10 are only counted when supported by a higher Honour card (A, K or Q)

Provided the hand contains adequate HCP :
1. A suit with SQ = 7+   is suitable for an overcall at the 1 -level
For example :   ♥ Q 10 x x x   (SQ : 5 + 2 = 7) or better

2. A suit with SQ = 8+   is suitable for an overcall at the 2-level
For example :   ♥ Q J 10 x x   (SQ : 5 + 3 = 8) or better

3. A suit with SQ = 9+   is suitable for an overcall at the 3- or 4-level
For example :   ♥ Q J 10 x x x   (SQ : 6 + 3 = 9) or better

I personally may occasionally overcall with a weaker suit when Not Vulnerable (especially when the Opponents are Vulnerable), but always adhere to the required SQ value when Vulnerable.

The Rule of 10
There are situations when you know there is Game or even Slam there, but Partner has no tolerance (2-card support) for your long suit. So the question arises how good should your suit be to become the designated trump suit with only a singleton or void of your suit in Partner's hand.

When SQ = 10 your suit can "go it alone" as trump suit in a Game contract

Here are some examples.

1. ♥ A K J 10 x x :   SQ = 6 + 4 = 10, therefore good enough

2. ♥ K Q J 10 x x :   SQ = 6 + 4 = 10, therefore good enough

3. ♥ Q J 10 x x x x :   SQ = 7 + 3 = 10, therefore good enough

4. ♥ A K J x x x   :   SQ = 6 + 3 = 9, therefore not good enough

(
Down - Up - Top)

IBR 1.2 - Shape : Losing Trick Count (LTC)

Althought the Losing Trick Count (LTC) essentially applies only to trump contracts it is a great tool to asses the shape of any hand, therefore :

Always use both HCP and LTC counts when assessing your hand !!

Losing tricks are counted for the first 3 cards only in each suit.
Therefore you can have at the most 4 x 3 = 12 losers in your hand and 2 x 12 = 24 losers in the combined hands. (the 13th card is excluded from the count)

The actual number of losers in both hands is subtracted from 24 (the maximum number of losers possible). This shows the number of tricks you may make :

14 losers = 10 tricks : Game is likely
12 losers = 12 tricks : Small Slam is likely
Counting losers in your hand :

Compare these three hands :

 Hand 4 ♠ A 8 3 ♥ K 9 5 ♦ 7 4 2 ♣ 9 6 4 3       10 losers Hand 5 ♠ A 8 4 2 ♥ K 9 5 ♦ 7 4 ♣ 9 6 4 3       9 losers Hand 6 ♠ A 8 4 2 ♥ K 9 5 4 ♦ 7 ♣ 9 6 4 3       8 losers

Hand 4 is a weak response hand with 10 losers. It can respond with 1NT after Partner minor suit Opening bid, or raise Partner's major suit opening to the 2-level. However with a 4333 distribution it lack any opportunity for a trick gaining ruff.

Hand 5 shows a definite improvement It has only 9 losers and can respond with 1♠ after Partner's Opening bid in any other suit. The Diamond doubleton also provides an opportunity for a trick gaining ruff.

Hand 6 is a great Response hand. It contains only 8 losers. Because of its specific shape (4+ trumps plus a singleton or void) you may even subtract 1 loser from its total (8 - 1 = 7 losers).
After Partner's major suit opening, immediately raise to Game (this is the standard bidding response!).

Shapes like Hand 6 provide very strong support. Game can be reached with only 20 HCP in the combined hands (instead of 26 HCP), and a Slam is possible with only 25-28 HCP (instead of 33 HCP) !!

2a. Borderline cases
I recommend you firmly adhere to the following :

1. With 13 points : make an Opening bid, regardless of your number of losers
With 11-12 points and 7 losers : make an Opening bid (especially when holding a 4+card major)
With 12 points and 8+ losers : do not open the bidding

2. With 11 points : you may respond with a new suit at the 2- level, regardless of your number of losers
With 10 points and 8 losers : you may respond with a new suit at the 2-level
With 10 points and 9+ losers : do not respond with a new suit at the 2-level

3. With 6-10 HCP, 6+card suit : only open with a Weak Two with 7-8 losers
With 6 losers or less bid either at the 1- or the 3-level, depending on the strength of your hand

2b. Estimating losers in Partner's hand

•   6-10 pts = 9+ losers (weak response)

• 11-12 pts = 8 losers (bids new suit at the 2 level)

• 13-15 pts = 7 losers (minimum 1 opening)

• 16-18 pts = 6 losers (strong 1 opening)

• 19-21 pts = 5 losers (maximum 1 opening)

• 22+ pts   = 4-3 losers (Game forcing 2♣ opening)

(
Down - Up - Top)

IBR 1.3 - The Hand Valuation Index :   vi

For all balanced and most semi-balanced hands borderline cases can be easily resolved using the simple guidelines presented in Chapter 2.2a above. For a few specific (usually unbalanced) hands there are also set bidding guide lines, such as the Game raise and Splinter raise responses (see Lesson 2), Weak Twos and Pre-emptive opening bids.

However for many unbalanced hands the situation is not so clear cut.   For these types of hands I present to you the concept (developed by myself) of the hand valuation index : "vi".

The Valuation Index combines the essential components of quality (HCP, LP and SupH) and shape (LTC) into one simple formula which produces a concrete value (the vi) that defines the total strength of your hand.

The vi (valuation index) can be applied to all hand shapes, but it is especially useful for a meaningful assessment of unbalanced hands.

vi   =   HCP  +   LP   +   SupH   -   LTC

The various vi values correspond with the following hand strengths.

 vi   <   2 : Minimum response hand. Bid new suits up to 1NT or single raise Partner's suit. vi = 2 - 5 : Medium response hand, you may bid a new suits at the 2-level. vi = 2 - 5 : Next round bid 2NT or raise Partner's suit to the 3-level (invitational). vi = 6 - 9 : Minimum opening. Single raise Partner's suit, single rebid own suit or rebid 1NT. vi = 10+ : Strong opening. Jump rebid own suit, jump raise Partner's suit. vi = 10+ : You may make a Reverse bid. (For vi values of 5½ and 9½ use your own judgement)

Here follow some examples. All hands are unbalanced and within a 9-12 HCP range.

1. ♠ Q J 10 5   ♥ A K 7 4 3   ♣ 8 6 2   ♦ 9         vi = 10½ + 1 + 1½ - 7 = 6

2. ♠ Q 10 8 6 5   ♥ A K 7 4 3   ♣ 6 2   ♦ 4         vi = + 2 + 1 - 6 = 6½

3. ♠ J 8 6 3   ♥ A J 10 4   ♣ K 10 9 5   ♦ 3         vi = 10 + 0 + 1½ - 8 = 3½

4. ♠ J 8 6 3   ♥ A Q 10 4 3   ♣ K 10 9 5   ♦ -      vi = 11 + 1 + 1½ - 6 = 7½

5. ♠ 6 3   ♥ A Q 10 7 4 3   ♣ K Q 10 9 5   ♦ -     vi = 12 + 3 + 2 - 4 = 13
This means that Hands 1, 2 and 4 (above) are Minimum opening hands, Hand 3 is a Medium response hand, and Hand 5 is a strong opening hand.

(
Down - Up - Top)

IBR 1.4 - Context

When you pick up and sort your cards you make the initial valuation of your hand in isolation. But as soon as the auction starts your have the opportunity to assess your hand within an increasingly wider context.
Your Partner's bids are of course part of an essential communication in order to find a suitable contract.

But any bidding by your Opponents too can throw some light on the value of your own (and sometimes Partner's) hand. Here follow two very common scenarios.

 Hand 7 (South) ♠ K Q 9 3 ♥ 8 7 4 2 ♦ K 2 ♣ A Q J 8 The bidding goes : You 1♣ - (1♥) - DBL - (2♥) - You ? The Negative Double of your Partner shows 4 spades, so you do have a trump fit there. But there is also something else you should pick up from the Opponents' bidding. LHO's Overcall of 1♥ shows of course a 5-card suit and his Partner's support raise shows 3. Their 8 hearts plus your own 4 is 12, so your Partner has a singleton 1♥ or perhaps even a void. You were going to bid 2♠ anyway, but with this little bit of good news you can do it with more confidence. Hand 8 (South) ♠ J 8 4 ♥ K J 9 ♦ Q 10 4 ♣ A 10 4 3 The bidding goes : West ( 1♥) - 1♠ - (Pass) - You ? You have a ♠ trump fit with Partner, but also two negative features in your hand. A 4333 shape means you will not produce an extra trick through ruffing. Also LHO sits with his high ♥s over your ♥K J, which both will be caught if East gets the Opening lead.Respond therefore 1NT. Now West must make the opening lead, and as long as you can prevent East from gaining the lead you have two stoppers in Hearts. Playing in NT you should make as many tricks as in Hearts and is therefore a much better bet.

Typical vulnerable Honour holdings are :   AQx     KQx     KJx     Kxx
If your LH Opponent sits with his high cards over your vulnerable Honour it will most likely be caught, producing no trick   The value of your hand in this context is therefore decreased : add 1 loser (or vi) to your hand.

If. on the other hand, your RH Opponent holds the high cards in the suit he can not hurt you for he sits under your vulnerable Honours and therefore can not capture them.   You can therefore be more confident that your vulnerable Honour will indeed produce a trick.

3a. The Law of Total Tricks

The Law of Total Tricks, as defined by the French Bridge theorist Jean-Rene Vernes says :

 "When playing in a trump contract, the total tricks that can be made by the two sides, each in its best suit, is equal to the total of trumps held in these two suits." The following useful guideline is derived from above Law : When both sides have found a trump fit and the points are not too unequally divided, you should bid for as many tricks as your side has trumps.

For example if your side has (5 + 3 =) 8 Spades and the Opponents possess (5 + 4 =) 9 Diamonds, the total number of tricks that can be made with contracts in these two suits is 8 + 9 = 17 tricks.

The actual tricks makable need not be divided 8-9 (they may be 7-10 or 9-8 for example), as they depend on the favourable or unfavourable location of critical key cards like an Ace or a King. For example if a King sits over the Ace it will likely make a trick, but if it sits under the Ace it will probably be captured by it.

Nevertheless, it is a good rule of thumb when competing for a Part score :

• Vulnerable : bid up to the 2-level with 8 trumps and up to the 3-level with 9 trumps.

• Not Vulnerable : bid up to the 3-level with just 8 trumps (or up to the 4-level with 9 trumps), happy to go down one trick.
Here is a typical example :
 Hand 9 (South) ♠ 9 3 ♥ Q 7 4 2 ♦ K 7 2 ♣ A 10 9 5 Bidding : North 1♥ - (DBL) - 2♥ - (2♠) - Pass - (Pass) - You ? Sometimes (like here) only one of the Partners knows the exact number of trumps the Pair hold together. I such cases it is the responsibility of the Partner who knows to compete (when required) up to the maximum level. In the case here, only South knows that their side holds (5 + 4 =) 9, rather than 8, trumps and therefore should bid 3♥.

Here three more typical examples you should learn to recognise.

(Down - Up - Top)

IBR 1.5 - Deals 1 - 12

Other materials
1. Facts sheet & Bidding Guide

2. Examples of marginal hands : around 12 HCP - 9-10 HCP

3. Context examples

4. Quiz - Quiz Answers
( Up - Top - Links page)

© 2012 Michael Furstner